Maybe if he didn’t have that God complex, he wouldn’t be in the position he is today
he told leading MMA journalist Ariel Helwani that he chose the name as it was a reminder of a life he never wanted to return to.
Born in July 1988, a couple of weeks after Ireland’s involvement in the European Football Championship, McGregor was the third of Tony and Margaret’s three children. Erin and Aoife had arrived first.
He was small in stature, but excellent at sport — particularly football. Like many boys from Crumlin, he gravitated towards the boxing club and soon found he had a natural talent.
And yet, McGregor has often spoken about the hard knocks that pockmarked his teen years, of being bullied occasionally and having to fend for himself in street fights. Many who know him also talk about his sense of disorientation when the family relocated to Lucan, in west Dublin, when he was 17.
He went through the gaelscoil system — first in Tallaght and then at Coláiste Cois Life in Lucan — but his Irish was decidedly rusty when asked a question as Gaeilge by a TG4 reporter a couple of years ago.
A turning point came when he met Tom Egan, an MMA fighter from Kildare who was trying to make his name in the then modest world of UFC in the late 2000s. Egan helped reignite a passion in McGregor for combat sports and he was soon training in the Straight Blast Gym founded by John Kavanagh, who has been his coach for many years.
In Kavanagh, McGregor found a figure who truly believed in his abilities and the pair have been inseparable since, although there’s a remarkable gulf in temperament between the cool, considered and soft-spoken ‘Coach Kavanagh’ and the hot-headed, ranting foul-mouthed McGregor we have seen of late.
Since his earliest days in UFC, McGregor has divided opinion, but the for and against camps have become even more polarised in the run up to this fight. McGregor was roundly criticised for his behaviour at four press conferences to promote the Mayweather bout. He was accused of racist remarks towards his opponent and for corrosive language where the word ‘bitch’ featured strongly.
And it’s not the first time he has been criticised for the manner with which he verbally abused opponents. This is a fighter who referred to the German challenger, Dennis Siver, as a Nazi and who goaded Brazilian fighter José Aldo in his home country. “I own this town, I own Rio de Janeiro, so for him to say that he is the king and I am the joker, if this was a different time, I would invade his favela on horseback, and would kill anyone who wasn’t fit to work, but we’re in a new time, so I’ll whoop his ass instead.”
It’s that sort of talk that has made McGregor an unsavoury figure for many, including some of those who reside in Crumlin. “I think he’s a terrible role model for young boys,” says one lady on St Agnes Road. “His language is disgraceful and you’d think he’d watch his mouth now that he has a baby of his own.”
Her friend is of similar mind. “There’s a lot of hardship in this part of Dublin and in [neighbouring] Drimnagh and Walkinstown, but has he done anything with all his money to help the having to engage with the press in a way that most of his peers have to — and it demonstrates a determination to enhance the Conor McGregor brand outside of the octagon/ring. It’s thought this most dapper of dressers will launch his own clothing line in the next year.
Despite the stadium-sized attitude, McGregor is said to have kept his feet on the ground thanks to the support of a small group of people. Girlfriend Dee Devlin has been by his side for the past decade and the couple have a three-month old son, Conor Jr. Besides John Kavanagh, he’s close to several members of Ireland’s close-knit MMA community, including ex-pro Aisling Daly. And he retains a handful of friends from his boyhood in Crumlin.
There has been controversy about friendships with members of one of Dublin’s most notorious criminal gangs. “Kinahan cartel thugs enjoy high life with champ McGregor”, read a Sunday World headline last year, and featured a photo of the fighter and an unidentified gangland figure standing proudly on the bonnets of a pair of expensive cars.
The same paper also reported earlier this year that his sister Aoife married Mark Elliott, an ex-convict who was imprisoned for three years after being caught in possession of a huge cannabis stash for sale and supply.
There is no suggestion, however, that Conor McGregor — or any member of his family — has been engaged in criminal activity.
If the past five years have felt like a whirlwind to the Dubliner and all who know him, it’s impossible to say what the next five have in store. But Dana White, the all-powerful UFC President, believes McGregor’s potential is as boundless as his confidence: “If you look at this thing and you look at how big this fight is and you look at how big these athletes are that are involved in this fight… if Conor does knock Floyd Mayweather out, he’s the biggest athlete on earth.”
And Rhonda Byrne — and her much maligned, but enormously popular, book — will have played their part.